Workplace Solutions Hand/arm protection Personal protective equipment

Hand safety programs

How do I build a hand safety program that actually reduces hand injuries?

Photo: Superior Glove

Responding is Joe Geng, vice president, Superior Glove, Toronto.

Did you know that hand injuries are the No. 1 preventable injury in the workplace? According to a recent Department of Labor study, of all injuries reported, fingers and hands accounted for more than 23%, making them the most frequent preventable injuries. In terms of lost workdays, they ranked second to back and neck injuries. If they can be prevented, then why not prevent them? How do you build a hand safety program that works?

Start at the top. If you’re committed to building a culture of safety, make sure you start at the top. Workers can tell if safety is a real priority if it begins with management and empowers everyone from safety officers and managers to every person in the workplace.
Learn what the best companies do. Best companies have engaged and involved workers. They realize safety is good for business. Preventing hand injuries with a thorough hazard assessment, the right personal protective equipment and effective training is less costly than the injuries themselves. Skimping on hand safety is penny-wise and pound-foolish. By comparison, in the worst companies, there’s a distrust of workers. The distrust is reciprocated. This mindset results in a low priority for hand safety and hand safety programs.
Achieve team buy-in. Your safety program is only going to be effective when everyone participates. What works?

  • Telling stories. People respond to stories of practical examples. Stories provide a human face, not just a metric. Maybe it’s explaining how an injury impacted a family.
  • Start small. If you start small and get people to buy into a cause, then you can slowly ramp up from there.
  • Positive peer pressure. Harness social pressure. People learn by example.
  • The “IKEA effect.” You’ll feel a sense of ownership if you’re personally involved.
  • Find the Eeyore. Identify the person(s) who is disengaged and engage them so they feel that they’re part of the solution.

Tips for an effective safety program include:

  • Don’t keep useless statistics – either none or not detailed.
  • Stay away from lousy training and dull trainers.
  • Avoid bad PPE buying/storing habits.
  • Don’t overlook cultural issues. Workers born outside North America could have a different mindset about safety.
  • Don’t forget that your workers speak different languages. Appreciate the diversity of your workforce.
  • Avoid saying, “You can’t fix stupid” and “Some accidents are inevitable.” This attitude won’t move the needle. The best companies work toward zero accidents as a goal.

Don’t use misguided safety incentives (e.g., if workers go 100 days without injury, they get an incentive). This can result in underreporting injuries. Best companies use gamification to award positive activities (e.g., wearing PPE, having meetings).

A good hand safety program needs to start at the top and involve everyone. Whether you’re a CEO, supervisor or safety manager, realize it’s not about statistics. It’s about saving human hands.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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